Not in most current forests. This is almost the only statement agreed by scientists across Europe in a recent exchange of views in the prestigious journal Nature. Miroslav Svoboda from the CULS Faculty of Forestry and Wood Sciences was among those who were allowed to comment on the original text. What was it about?
Climate change is forcing adaptation. Those who do not adapt must get off the bike. This applies to both social and natural systems. However, with a properly set up functioning of the social system, the natural order can also benefit. This is one of the EU's goals, which in its 2020 biodiversity strategy calls for forestry approaches that lead to the protection of species and habitats. In addition, the EU also targets a lower carbon footprint.
Against this background, the Italian-Finnish team led by Sylvan Fares presented a set of recommendations that should ensure greater forest resilience while increasing carbon sequestration.
In their view, tree species that can adapt to changing climatic conditions should be grown in Europe's forests. Ie. tree species that are primarily drought-resistant, regardless of whether they are native species. They also recommend more intensive thinning and shortening the rotation period time, ie. forest management in a shorter production cycle. Their last recommendation is to regulate and control natural disturbances, such as storms or fires, in order to ensure greater stability of forest stands. Fares and the team also pointed out that currently only 2/3 of the annual growth of European forests is harvested, which means a loss in terms of bioenergy production.
The reactions did not take long, and the editorial staff of Nature received independently of each other critical comments from four traditionally forestry countries.
Opponents pointed to the necessity to understand the forest as a complex ecosystem, not just as a timber plantation reduced to an engineering unit with measurable inputs and outputs. Forests in the EU have several other functions, such as protecting forest-dependent organisms and their habitats or tourism. They emphasize that the publication does not distinguish between intensively managed forests for timber production and forests that also provide other functions. At the same time, they warn against similar tendencies, which, under the auspices of the fight against climate change and a carbon-balanced Europe, are proposing solutions that have the effect of maximizing logging.
Miroslav Svoboda adds: “Absolute control of the forest is expensive and inefficient. Rather than interventions against natural processes, sensitive interventions in their direction can contribute to adaptation to climate change.” His words are supported by several studies that have addressed this issue, reaching the following conclusions:
Forest management aimed only at maximizing wood production leads to the loss of native tree species and other organisms that live in the forest. At the same time, the tourist and social function of the forest, which in the EU provides similar or higher financial returns than forestry, is significantly limited.
Reducing the rotation period and removing rotting wood threatens old forests and old trees that represent the homes of many birds, bats, beetles, mushrooms and lichens.
It is necessary to distinguish between forests intended mainly for economic functions and forests that also have other functions.
Many generations of foresters in European forests have tried to reduce disturbances. The result is a tripling of the amount of wood that has fallen in Europe over the last 40 years as a result of wind, bark beetle or fires. In addition, examples from the USA show that the suppression of disturbances (specifically fires) leads to a smaller number of events, but these are much more intense as a result. From this point of view, the fight against the natural order of the forest seems uneconomical, the results are usually exactly the opposite of what was intended. Not to mention the impact on biodiversity.
The challenge facing European forestry is demanding: to ensure wood production and carbon sequestration, all without compromising biodiversity and other social functions of the forest. It is undeniable that this task remains far more important than any academic skirmish. However, we can be pleased that a voice from the FLZ CULS was heard in a prestigious periodical such as Nature. Less so, that there is such a fundamental contradiction in the approach to management, which covers almost 40% of Europe's area.
Prof. Ing. Miroslav Svoboda, Ph.D. (* 1977)
Prof. Svoboda studied forestry at the Faculty of Forestry and Wood Sciences, CULS in Prague. He became an associate professor in the field of ecology in 2009 at the CULS FES and obtained a professorship at the CULS FFWS in the spring of 2015. He currently works as the head of the youngest department - forest ecology - at the FFWS.
Prepared by: Jiří Lehejček